Preparing for Patagonia: A Weekend Practice Trip in Big Sur

It’s now just 10 weeks until my friend Reuben and I embark on the most far-reaching expedition of my adult life. We will be flying through South America’s capitals on a hair-brained itinerary that will get us to the end of the continent for just taxes and fees.

When we arrive, in Patagonia, we’ll take a bus south from El Calafate to the revered Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. There, we’ll spend a week on the “circuit” route, covering 71 miles of trail at the foot of the glaciers and magnificent rock towers under continuously variable weather conditions.

To prepare, we have selected a 26-mile route in the Ventana Wilderness on the Big Sur Coast. We will complete this backpacking course in three days, expecting to take in over 7,000 feet of elevation gain in that time. A detailed description of the route is available from this trail-runner’s blog, uncovered by Reuben’s impressive “googling” skills.

Trail conditions for the Ventana Wilderness and, therefore, most of the available hikes and backpacking routes in the Big Sur area are available from the Ventana Wilderness Alliance. Once almost impassable, the Cone Peak Trail has apparently been brilliantly cleared.

The route we’ll be using begins at one of my favorite car-camping sites, Kirk Creek Campground. For whatever reason, I have always arrived at this camp after dark, which means that its cliffside location always catches me by surprise/amazes me. The only weak point of this camp is that there are no showers and the water is no longer potable, but Limekiln State Park just a few miles north has both of those things.

Here are a few photos from the first five miles of the route, which I have done several times as an overnight in the past: